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4th Bn., 160th SOAR (A) earns second safety award

Northwest Guardian

Published: 07:02PM June 5th, 2014

Although their helicopters fly some of the most dangerous missions in the military, the “Night Stalkers” of 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment received a unit safety award May 30 during a special Army Safety Excellence Streamer ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Army streamer “adorned” the battalion colors, recognizing SOAR Soldiers’ skill and care while flying in extreme conditions, as well as their general unit safety consciousness.

It was 4-160 SOAR’s second safety award in the month. Three weeks earlier, the battalion received a unit safety award from Army Aviation Association of America in Nashville, Tenn.

“Despite our worldwide reach, we maintain safety,” said Lt. Col. Chad Chasteen, commander of 4-160 SOAR. “Very intense timelines, tough terrain or bad weather — you name it, these guys do it all. It took worldwide commitment to make us successful.”

The “Night Stalkers” lived up to their nickname last year by flying missions around the clock, 24/7, 365 days a year — in six countries around the world.

“Because we fly at night using only instruments, it adds another level of difficulty to not get into an accident,” said Sgt. 1st Class Keith Caraway, S3 NCOIC for the battalion. “It’s awesome to do what we do and know we haven’t lost any life.”

They carry Rangers, Navy SEALs and Special Forces day-to-day, yet not one Soldier in the past 12 months had a class A or B accident, defined as the crash of a car or helicopter, to the death of a Soldier or the loss or damage of equipment worth $500,000 to $2 million.

“It’s easy to get a class A accident when we deal with a lot of expensive equipment, and then we wouldn’t be eligible,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Green, battalion safety officer. “It’s about not taking risk we don’t have to and managing risk.”

Caraway said simple steps and basic principles make a huge difference.

“We mitigate safety hazards by planning and training so we know what’s coming,” Caraway said. “Safe repetitions equal a safe outcome.”

After the safety streamers were placed on each company’s guidon, a small group of SOAR Soldiers received individual safety awards. The group included pilots with up to 4,000 accident-free flight hours, which can take over a decade to achieve.

“That’s impressive,” Green said. But the routine actions of battalion Soldiers reveal more about their safety consciousness than streamers, he said.

Even before focusing on their past safety achievements at their award ceremony last Friday, the battalion’s senior NCO, Command Sgt. Maj. James Wilson, gave a safety brief to focus on the future of their safety legacy.

“I’d rather come down from Seattle in the middle of the night, than (have) you get in trouble with the law,” Wilson said. “We have a force of excellence, so there’s no excuse. We’ll figure out a form of payment later — in the gym,” he only half-joked.

This was the second DOD safety streamer the 4-160 SOAR had earned. The unit’s last fatality was Sgt. Nicholas Montague, who died in an off-duty motorcycle accident.

“When we lose a Soldier in combat, it’s a tragedy; when we lose one off-duty, its even more of a surprise,” Chasteen said. After their loss, they were even more motivated to get the award this year, and succeeded after talking extra strides toward safety, he said.

“We make extra time and resources for training these guys on motorcycle safety,” Chasteen said.

The unit sponsored a memorial motorcycle ride May 29, the day before the streamer ceremony. Chasteen said it wasn’t only a great way to remember Montague, but also a way to get his guys more safe-driving practice.

Battalion leaders are already looking forward to future safety measures and accomplishments.

“What we’re going to do now is go 12 more months without another accident.” Chasteen said.

Not only do the Night Stalkers have the reputation for being Soldiers who think safety first, but the Army Aviation Association also named them the Active Aviation Unit of the Year for 2013.

Chasteen said many might think the battalion can only go downward from there, but he disagreed.

“Where do we go from here?” he rhetorically asked his Soldiers during the ceremony. “We go up, and never look back.”